Brandon Jennings, and why your child might be better off without college
Around this time last year, the consensus was that California hotshot point guard Brandon Jennings made a disastrous decision by electing to play professional basketball in Italy instead of following through on a college commitment to the University of Arizona. This Washington Times story from Dec. 4, 2008, was typical:
When last season’s consensus No. 1 prep player, Brandon Jennings, headed to Italy instead of college, becoming the first high school player to choose that path since the NBA instituted its minimum-age requirement after the 2005 draft, some observers dubbed Jennings the pioneer of a new era.
“I think we’re going to have a revolution,” said former shoe executive Sonny Vaccaro, who advised Jennings during his decision-making process. “And Brandon Jennings, a kid from Compton [Calif.], is going to start it.”
A month into Jennings’ European experiment, the reverberations of said “revolution” have given way to deafening silence.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound guard has all but vanished from basketball’s collective conscious. Jennings is the fourth member of Lottomatica Roma’s backcourt rotation. Buried in the depth chart behind guards like former All-Big East performer Allan Ray (Villanova) and former Ivy League player of the year Ibrahim Jaaber (Penn), Jennings exited the team’s first eight games averaging 4.9 points and 3.0 assists in 17.3 minutes.
Jennings is being well-compensated for his spot duty. Contracts with the Rome-based club and UnderArmour are reportedly earning him in excess of $3 million this season. But the long-term wisdom of his career choice remains questionable. Instead of enjoying a high-profile role at Arizona, where he would have served as the Wildcats’ primary perimeter complement to versatile forward Chase Budinger, he’s struggling to earn minutes for a 4-4 squad in the Italian League. As a result, his draft stock is falling.
“He began the season in the top 10 on everybody’s board, but his slow start has everyone re-evaluating,” an NBA scout said at the Old Spice Classic.
It didn’t look good either, when Jennings rushed into the NBA Draft inexplicably late, well after Milwaukee drafted him 10th overall, the fourth overall point guard taken.
Of course, you don’t need a college degree in foreshadowing to know what happens next.
Jennings takes an early lead for NBA Rookie of the Year, what with performances like the one against Golden State (which took Stephen Curry ahead of him) Nov. 14, scoring 55 points, the most by a rookie since Earl Monroe’s 56 in 1967. Suddenly, analysts are wondering whether more hotshot players are going to jump to Europe for a year in their intense pro league instead of the relatively sedate college life, and Jeremy Tyler’s struggles with a team in Israel are less an indictment of him than necessary growing pains for his future NBA career.
So, you might ask, what does all this mean when I plainly state in the title of the blog that Your Kid’s Not Going Pro?
Well, like in basketball, there are a lot of people going to college who have no business going to college, who are going only because they’re told it’s the only way to a lucrative career, who are better served finding their own way in the world before determining whether college is right for them.
College is a wonderful place. I spent some time there myself. But given how expensive college has gotten (in part because of the message that everybody’s gotta go), if your child is looking at a career path that doesn’t necessitate college, or at least if he or she wants to get a little taste of the real world before going to college, what’s wrong with that? Or do you want massive student loans to pay for an unmotivated or unready college student?
In Jennings’ case, it appears spending a year’s apprenticeship, not being treated like the golden god of basketball, did far more for his game and maturity than a single season at Arizona ever could.
True, most people who eschew college are going to end up the opposite of Jennings on the income scale. I’m not saying you shouldn’t push your kids into strongly considering college. But it seems like, as parents, we also need to figure out the wisest course for our kids, wherever that might take them.